Embrace the CCJ
We don't know where Shanique Myrie will be on Tuesday, but wherever she is, we hope that her fingers are crossed and that she says a silent prayer to the favour of all Jamaicans, especially those like herself who appreciate how difficult a path it can be to justice. And we hope that the parliamentary Opposition hears her.
That is the day when the House of Representatives begins debate on three bills, which, if passed, as we expect they will, should pave the way for Jamaica's accession to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its criminal and civil jurisdiction, to which Andrew Holness and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) are opposed - sort of. Jamaica already subscribes to the court in its original jurisdiction, in which it interprets the treaty that established the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) - of which this country is a member - and matters related thereto.
A decade ago, Parliament approved bills to the same end, but the legislative route by which this was achieved was held by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which the CCJ will supplant as Jamaica's final court, to be unconstitutional. We do not believe the same constitutional complaints will arise again, given the seeming care with which the matter is now being attended.
But there are political considerations, beyond the desirability and efficacy of the court, that cause Mr Holness' Opposition to be obstreperous about the CCJ.
That is why we identify Ms Myrie as a metaphor; for the possibility of greater accessibility to the highest dispenser of justice by ordinary folk, as defined as those without great resources. The point is that for nearly 300 years, the UK-based Privy Council has served Jamaica and its regional neighbours well, but in limited fashion. But distance, cost and other
factors, including socio-economic ones, have made it available primarily only to the wealthy and people convicted of
murder, who, often, can count on pro bono representation.
The CCJ is, in part, a final act of sovereignty by the Caribbean collective; the repatriation of an important symbol of their independence. But the action also has practical value. It is likely to be cheaper for Caribbean people to avail themselves of a regional court, especially one that is itinerant.
In Jamaica, where regionalism is viewed with suspicion - sometimes contrived - the court is a potential hot-button issue. So the JLP has shifted from an outright opposition to the demand for it to be the subject of a referendum. That is not constitutionally required. And the procedure by which the Constitution is being amended will, on the face of it, remove the 2004 argument, upheld by the Privy Council, that unlike the Jamaican courts it will supersede, it is not constitutionally entrenched. Further, in its years of operation, unfortunately with limited membership, the court has proved itself to be independent and jurisprudentially sound. Additionally, there is no court in the world with greater insulation from political interference than the CCJ.
So, back to Ms Myrie as metaphor.
Her access to the court was in its
original jurisdiction in her capacity as a citizen of CARICOM. There will be other rulings by the court that, unlike the one in Ms Myrie's favour, might be deeply unpopular in Jamaica. But Ms Myrie, in that limited sphere as a citizen of
CARICOM, had access. It is a path to
justice that should be broadened.